During the 1970’s, I was a full-time preaching minister for what nowadays would be called an evangelical church. One of my responsibilities was the publication of a weekly church bulletin, which I mailed to more than 500 homes.
In addition to announcing programs and activities, I also wrote an original article and filled the remaining space with articles written by ministers from other congregations. I included their names in my mailing list, and requested to be added to theirs.
As a result, I was able to see what was “trending” in that pre-world-wide-web evangelical environment.
One week I was shocked by multiple articles regarding an alleged effort of atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair to restrict all religious broadcasting on radio and TV.
This was of special interest to me, since I produced religious programs weekly on a local radio station.
This infamous atheist activist had gone too far and must be stopped, explained the article which called for immediate action in the form of protest letters to the Federal Communication Commission. Undoubtedly my readers would want to be informed and to participate against this apparent effort to restrict all religious speech.
Ready to reprint this article in my church newsletter, I was unable to give credit to the author, inasmuch as no author’s name was attached. In the pre-world-wide-web era, I could see that this article was not only trending heavily, but it was being republished verbatim without any verification.
Suspicious, but without a Google for quick confirmation, I chose not to include it, even though many churches were widely publicizing it.
Within a few weeks came a newspaper report of a fake religious campaign to stop something that was not happening. Ms. O’Hair, while yet an advocate of atheism, had not filed the complaint. There had earlier been a much narrower challenge regarding certain broadcast outlets licensed for general education purposes, but Ms. O’Hair was not mentioned in the request for review. Furthermore, the complaint had been reviewed by the FCC and denied back in 1975.
The article was clearly bogus, unattributed, and embarrassing. This should have served as an instructive moment for the evangelical community. Apparently, it did not.
Madalyn Murray O’Hair and family members were gruesomely murdered in 1995. So, imagine my surprise in 1996, when the same article again went viral but with the help of that new-fangled electronic mail capability. (Remember, the following version of the hoax was circulated after O’Hair’s murder!)
Madalyn Murry O’Hair, an atheist, whose effort successfully eliminated the use of the Bible Reading and Prayer from public schools fifteen years ago has now been granted a Federal hearing in Washington, D.C. on the same subject by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Her petition, P.M. 2493, would ultimately pave the way to stop the reading of the Gospel on the air waves of America. She took her petition with 287,000 signatures to back her stand. If her attempt is successful, all Sunday worship services being broadcast, either by radio, or television will stop. Many elderly people and shut-ins as well as those recuperating from hospitalization or illness, depend on radio and television to fulfill their worship needs every week.
Madalyn is also campaigning to REMOVE ALL CHRISTMAS PROGRAMS, CHRISTMAS SONGS, AND CHRISTMAS CAROLS from public schools. You can help this time! We need 1,000,000 (one million) signed letters. This should defeat Ms. O’Hair and show that there are many CHRISTIANS ALIVE AND WELL AND CONCERNED in our country. This petition is NUMBER 2493. Sign, cut off and mail the form below. PLEASE DO NOT SIGN JOINTLY AS Mr. and Mrs. Let each adult SIGN ONE separately and mail it in a separate envelope. BE SURE TO PUT PETITION NUMBER 2493 ON THE ENVELOPE when mailing your letter.
Please send this letter out to anyone that can help in the cause.
What’s more, thirty-three years after the original article, the hoax was still alive.
According to Snopes.com — a well known hoax-checker — a November 2008 version, apparently acknowledging O’Hair’s death thirteen years earlier, “conveniently replaced Madalyn Murray O’Hair with Barack Obama as the driving force behind the purported movement to ban religious programming from the airwaves.” Otherwise, the message remained largely unchanged. (http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/fcc.asp )
The religious right, it seems, is ever susceptible to false narratives. Perhaps this explains a July, 2016 NBC News survey which reported that seventy-two percent of registered Republican voters still doubt President Obama’s citizenship. It may also explain why 37% of Republicans have a favorable view of Vladimir Putin .
(http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2016-election/poll-persistent-partisan-divide-over-birther-question-n627446 and https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2016/1216/Why-Putin-is-suddenly-gaining-popularity-among-conservatives )
The truth shall set you free, said Jesus – but apparently not in today’s often manipulated religious evangelical right.